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Better Teaching Better Learning

Often when we are looking to teach or introduce new ideas and concepts to learners in the past we have often followed this approach;

Step 1: What does the learner need to learn? Step 2: What resources do I have to teach this with? Step 3: How do I go about teaching it?

I have to admit that I can make only little claim to the work described below as I have been a small part of a group of colleagues who have been looking at how we can make a real shift change in learning across the educational authority where I work in South Yorkshire. This has led to the development of this approach being described below and that has become known as the Barnsley Learning Framework.

The first step is often given in line with national programs as we have in the UK though the National Curriculum and the requirements of the examination boards. Then what we see is the third step, dictated by the second. There are several reasons I feel this approach is best.

The first is dictated by resources in the school. For example if the school has purchased a class set of textbooks then the educator will often feel, “I have these so they must use them.” In this example, the instructor appears to dictate an individual approach to learning and in many cases leads to answering the questions or copying out the content.

The second is case that teachers replicate their own experiences of learning and use the same approaches, “Well it worked for me.” As many of us have been through a traditional education system and succeeded, then they have little practical experience to call on for extraordinary, or even different, cases. The third, and most significant I feel, is that many teachers have a limited repertoire of teaching strategies and so they run to what they feel most comfortable with and in many cases; this is teacher-led instruction.

Often this approach has led to students receiving similar lessons throughout their time in schools and leaving de-motivated towards learning, lacking a range of skills required to equip them for the world outside school and often lacking the understanding that require to achieve.

Is it time we revisited the process described above and shifted the structure if we are to really address learning at its heart. To enable learners to gain the best experience possible we need to shift to a different approach

Step 1: What does the learner need to learn Step 2: How do I go about teaching it? Step 3: What resources do I need to teach this with?

By moving to this approach we start to think about what is the best way to teach what students are required to know much earlier in the process. This requires teachers to have an understanding of a range of strategies and a recognition of when to apply each one. For example, would the understanding we need the students to gain be best learned through an ‘Inductive’ or ‘Deductive’ approach?

To achieve the required approach this then forces the teacher to think about what resources they need and how to organise the classroom. For example if I need students to work in small groups how do I organise the class to facilitate this? What resources do I need to allow then to allow them to work in this way? Do they need access to particular technology, and if so do they all need access or should this be a group based provision? All too often the only good use of technology has been when each child has their own equipment, but this again needs to be driven by the approach that is being taken by the learning.

The work done by Sugata Mitra through the TPACK model for teacher development and learning determines that we need to develop teachers who are strong in three areas; subject knowledge, pedagogy and technology. When you combine all three, you have a very powerful teacher who can identify the ‘what and how’ that provides the best learning opportunities for students.

To adopt this approach, it will have significant impact on professional development as well as teaching training. Along with understanding Piaget and Maslow, we need to ensure that teachers understand and can apply a full range of strategies that can be used effectively as well as identifying the opportunities that technology can bring for both learner and teacher.

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